Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark is a respected elder statesman. The 93-year-old and quintessential national leader of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) has remained forthright given the way he dissects critical issues, not minding whose ox is gored. Of course, the former Federal Commissioner for Information under the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon said he has seen it all and owe it as a duty to tell the whole truth and help chart a way for the future of the country.
But he expressed worry during a chat with Sunday Sun, stressing that the leadership of the country has been insensitive and not ready to do what is right as far as development and nation-building are concerned. He, therefore, warned that unless the leadership embarks on the restructuring of the country, it would continue to work in circles.
He also observed that the way the country is being run, makes Nigeria to be sitting on a keg of gun-powder that would explode if priority is not given on security of lives and property, which he said should be tackled through restructuring of the system. Excerpts:
Looking at the way and manner the courts are upturning election results, do you think that what is happening could be seen as an indictment of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)?
It is a combination of so many things because you cannot just single out INEC, the electoral body. The presidency is not free from the blame or are you not aware that INEC is to a large extent being influenced? The judiciary has not helped matters in recent times and our lawyers, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), our Senior Advocates should hide their faces in shame given what is happening. Look at what is happening in Imo State and the way Emeka Ihedioha was removed. I watch some of our lawyers putting up their arguments and you are ashamed. The show of shame coming out from some of our court rulings are becoming embarrassing. They have to watch it because they are destroying the judiciary that is supposed to be the last hope of the masses, those denied justice. I expect the INEC chairman given his strong profile to rise above the challenge, but on second thought you know that to some extent their hands are tied. In some countries like India the security, particularly the police are controlled by the electoral body during the election. In Nigeria the security agents are used even to rig the election, here security operatives are used to intimidate and harass perceived political opponents. President Buhari has not shown statesmanship given his actions. There is political deception and Nigeria has never been badly divided as it is today. Some people and groups are treated as sacred cows as if they own Nigeria. You cannot build a country, a nation the way we are running this centralised structure we deceive ourselves as a federal structure. We are running a bad structure, a structure that discriminates, that robs Peter to pay Paul. As I have said at different fora if we don’t restructure and abandon this centralised structure we can never witness any genuine development. You cannot be sponsoring injustice and expect unity.
Given your observation so far in recent time, especially on critical issues, it appears this is not the Nigeria of your dream, the one our heroes past foresaw when they battled the colonialists for independence?
Of course, no, this is far from the Nigeria of our dream, the Nigeria our heroes envisaged. If I will recall, in the First Republic, even though we had some problems, the unity of Nigeria was very much guaranteed. During the pre-independence era, we worked together until 1953 when Tony Enahoro moved the motion for the independence of Nigeria and the Northern Region walked out of parliament. The British government invited Nigerian leaders to London for the 1954 and 1957 conferences and so on which led us to independence in 1960. During the period, one could notice there was peace and each of the regions was developing at its own pace. Then the revenue allocation was based on what you produced in your area. You keep 50 per cent of the allocation while the remaining 50 per cent goes to the Federal Government. And of the 50 per cent that goes to the Federal Government, 20 per cent is kept by the Federal Government while the remaining 30 per cent is shared, among other regions. Until 1963, when the Mid-West Region was created, each of the regions had its own Constitution and Agent-General in London. You will even find out today that one of the houses acquired by the Western Nigerian government in those days is part of the Nigeria High Commission in London. Then, there was neither envy nor hatred. Both Muslims and Christians were living in peace and harmony. But today, you can see that we are deeply divided and you can see the partiality injected in our politics, you can see the celebration of nepotism. Looking back, one can say that it was when the army struck that the problem started. Perhaps, those who fought for independence in 1960 when we got it never envisaged that almost 60 years after, Nigeria will still be so much divided with the type of many challenges that we are witnessing today. Now, there is hunger; unemployment has risen astronomically; the Fulani herdsmen now carry AK 47 around and we were told they are from Libya, Mali, Burkina Faso, as well as from other countries and these people have been allowed to come into Nigeria untouched, killing and maiming people.
Different zones have started to strategize for the 2023 presidential election despite that the time is still far. Where do you think, I mean the region, that should be considered for the presidency?
I have always made my position very clear on the issue of where or the zone that should produce the next president. I have said it during my interview with the Channels TV that it is the turn of Ndigbo. If we are talking of equality, if we are talking about justice then we should not deny the Igbo the opportunity of producing the next president for Nigeria. They have made great sacrifices also in our national development, even since the demand for independence from the colonialists. We had great Igbo minds like Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr Michael I. Okpara, Chief K.O. Mbadiwe, Prof Chuba Okadigbo, name them, they have had great diplomats and have contributed immensely to the development of this country in any area you can think of, so you cannot deny them a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction if you are sincere with running a country where all will have a sense of belonging. The way the country is today, Nigeria is drifting towards anarchy and we have to watch it, watch what we are doing, our actions and inactions. We had a civil war; the civil war does not make the Igbo man a second-class citizen. If they are to be second-class citizen then allow them to go. I have said this point several times to the Federal Government even when I was in government as the Minister of Information under General Yakubu Gowon. Nigeria is now a four-legged pot: the Northern leg, the Western leg, the Eastern leg, and the Mid-west leg, so Nigeria cannot stand on three–leg pot today. Look, the Igbo have only five states whereas Northwest has seven, South-south has six, Southwest has six, we recommended in the 2014 National Conference that we should create 18 more states, out of this 18 more states because of viability, all of them take care of themselves, so that Nigeria will be a country of equality whereby Northwest will have nine states, create two for them, create four for the Southeast so that they will make up to nine states, all the others give them three each, making 18, then we will have a stable country. This was part of our recommendations. So, I am not going to talk about rotation or no rotation. The Igbo should be allowed to present the next presidential candidate, nobody is more superior to the others in this country, we are equal. We must consider the Igbo for 2023 Presidency if we want a harmonious, united and a country built on justice.
What could you say is your greatest fear today for Nigeria?
I fear that we are moving towards anarchy and if nothing is done and quickly too nobody is safe. The fear has also been expressed by many people, by other well-meaning Nigerians. Let us not pretend, we must do the restructuring of this country. We cannot continue to delay the doomsday. Some people are saying that they don’t understand what restructuring is all about, those people are just being vicious, they know what restructuring means, but are pretending and playing the ostrich. We have been restructuring Nigeria before and after independence, we have not stopped restructuring, when you restructure everybody will become equal, nobody will go to Abuja to queue to collect money, the states will be independent, there will be the state police. Now the Federal Government is talking about the state police, community police etc, you can’t get all this unless there is restructuring, the Federal Government cannot do it alone, that is the position. Unless we have a leadership that is concerned and have the welfare of the people at heart we will continue to work in circles. My position has always been very constant, that we have taken a very dangerous and unprecedented security path in the country. It is time and I repeat, it is time for the president to convene a meeting of all stakeholders, former President Olusegun Obasanjo did that some years ago when he was in office and I was one of those who attended, various sectors of the country were summoned to that meeting with all security sections involved, governors involved. You can imagine a situation when you call a governor, the chief security officer of the state yet he has nothing to fight with them. Look at what happened in Nassarawa State recently where the deputy governor’s convoy was attacked by unknown gunmen and some policemen killed. So, what are we waiting for? Are we waiting for us to be overrun before we know that insecurity has taken over everywhere? The solution to the prevailing security challenges in the country lay only in restructuring. The truth is that the centralised security architecture in the country could not avert or respond swiftly to security issues in all parts of the country, so we must, therefore, restructure to allow for the creation of state police and other grassroots policing options, to tame the security issues in the country. The security challenges the country is currently facing will be overcome if we adopt restructuring. This is because the issue of security is local and we cannot have effective security cover when everything is done from the centre. We must know that a major ingredient of restructuring is state police and it is when we have this and other community policing options that we can have proper security. The restructuring would also promote effective governance and development if adopted by the country. But more importantly, it would ensure that power devolved from the centre to the other federating units, quickening decision-making and bringing development faster to the people. The Sun